L6 Term 1 Technical Project: Reduction Glazes

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Technical Project PDF

I began this term with the intention of developing a series of ash glazes with the hope of getting similarly expressive effects to those in the wood kiln at HDK. The project would also link in with my growing interest in ‘non-spaces’ through using plants from hedgerows and Cardiff’s invisible edgelands. Looking at the ash glazes of Bernard Leach and Katherine Pleydell Bouverie, I admired the quiet, subtle colours and how they work in a calming way on the viewer. Over the summer I collected together a few different ashes – from our log burning fireplace at home as well as from bracken and rushes I had sourced in the countryside in North Wales. I dry sieved these ashes without washing as I had read in the Phil Rogers glaze book that it wasn’t necessary to wash ashes.

Using the simple 60:40 ash to feldspar ratio recommended by Phil Rogers, I experimented with different feldspars, discovering that Potash crazed the most. I also discovered that increasing the proportion of China Clay made the glaze more matte (Test No1.1). Unfortunately the glaze application on the test tiles is patchy since the tiny amounts of ash I had to work with meant the mixtures ended up containing too much water. I left them to evaporate overnight but the small amount of ash meant I couldn’t get a very thick coverage. A second series of line blends (Test No1.2) was made to see what happened when I added increasing amounts of Potash Feldspar to different ashes. Ideally I would have added increasing amounts of ash instead since these results are too similar. The problems I had with obtaining enough ash led me to work with different glazes instead. All my ash tests were fired in reduction although I did test them in Oxidation too but they were colourless.

I liked one of my ash glaze tests very much because of its matte quality, strong iron speckling and mint green colour (Ash glaze A6 on the PDF) so as result decided to experiment with creating glazes that had a similar quality of subtlety and softness. I came across a glaze I had adapted from Jeremy Jernegan’s dry glaze handbook last year. The original glaze had been a matte white reduction glaze with Potash feldspar being the main ingredient. I had adapted the feldspars (as I did with the ash glazes) and discovered that adding Nepheline Syenite instead created a shiner, more viscous glaze (probably because it is higher in alumina than Potash). As I hoped to use these glazes on functional jars and bowls I didn’t want them to be too matte and flaky.

The original glaze is white however with Nepheline Syenite it becomes blue-white with patches of pink flushing depending on the reduction and application. I wanted a series of glazes with a similar satin quality but in different colours so added metal colourants to the base recipe in proportions as shown in the PDF (Test No2.1) and then, deciding these were too dark, created a Triaxial Blend with the Grey-blue, Turquoise and the lighter base glaze. I added 4 brushed on layers to each of the 16 tiles but unfortunately the results are a lot drier than I expected, not really suitable for functional vessels. The darkness of the glazes is probably a result of using Reduction St Thomas which is a darker clay body than the usual white St Thomas, which I chose because of the iron spotting it encourages. The dryness of the glazes in this test could be a result of them being on the lower level of the gas kiln where they perhaps didn’t quite all reach vitrification temperature.

Having never done a glaze technical before I felt a bit lost as to where to begin and how to alter glazes to get the results I wanted. Although the idea of using natural materials seemed attractive as it fitted with my philosophies of material vitality, finding the materials is such a dedication that it didn’t seem to be practical with the large quantities of glaze I needed for my functional vessels.  This project has been valuable to explore how colourants can impact glazes though and made me confident using the reduction kiln which I used for the first time this term.

 

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PDP L6 Term 1 The Gesamtkunstwerk Bowl

My work this term has arisen very much out of my experience of wood and anagama firing while on Erasmus at HDK and the vitality in the way the glazes flashed, crystallised and took on a life of their own as a result of the flames in the kiln. My thinking about time in relation to making has been shaped by this experience and as a result I have switched from electric to reduction firing to encourage a livelier capturing of the duration of the firing process.

Feeling my approach last year was too conceptual and not process-based enough to satisfy me creatively I resolved to throw myself into a more of a production potter mode to develop my throwing further this term, however I feel at the moment that the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction and my work doesn’t adequately illustrate my conceptual ideas. Musing along the lines of roundness as fullness or wholeness and therefore as a metaphor for happiness and a centeredness of form and mind, I’ve been working with juxtaposing forms of roundness for the bowl project to emphasise the round and humble nature of the bowl. I worked especially this term with jars (a cylindrical contrast to the bowl’s hemisphere) and found a lot of satisfaction in learning how to create fitting lids. I enjoy the extra dimension this interactivity gives to a vessel. Listening to Roelof talk about slowness on the kick-wheel at the Leach Pottery encouraged to me try working on one myself. I liked the way the jerkiness of this technique added character to the forms but I found the noisiness of the incessant creaking a big distraction and a constant marking of time that stopped me from reaching my meditative place of flow. It was a valuable exercise to make me more aware of the speed at which I throw and made me think about conserving energy in my actions.

Jon Clarkson’s Still life lectures have been valuable in making me think about my ideas in a wider context. I found parallels with my own work and Dutch still life painting in which the artist tries to explore an object or idea by painting its many different facets e.g. a lemon or a loaf of bread. One painting by Juan Sanchez de Cotan is an exploration of roundness by juxtaposing different vegetables. As a result of seeing this I have experimented with photographing my work as a collection in a still life but they don’t really succeed in highlighting roundness through juxtaposing ellipses, cylinders, hemispheres etc. possibly because the subject matter is too familiar and we can’t see the abstract shapes beyond that. If nothing else though it has been valuable to learn how to take professional photos on a DSLR camera for the first time in order to better promote my work on social media.

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Researching the work of Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie I found a softness and gentleness in her ash glazed vessels that embodied the qualities I hoped to convey and so began gathering together sources of ash. However, I discovered a flaw in my approach when I began processing the ash – an entire Tesco bag of rushes produced less than a gram! I had vastly underestimated the quantities I would need. As a result I looked to Phil Rogers’s ‘Fake ash’ glazes and played with layering one of these with a handful of other glazes to produce subtle qualities and pastel colours. For the first time I have been making large enough batches of glaze to dip work which results in a much more even and attractive coverage.

At first I was disappointed with the dullness of the colours but the more time I spent with them the more I grew to love the way the colours, iron spotting and carbon trapping in the shinos revealed themselves to you in different lights. I realised after doing a couple of makers markets that perhaps my work didn’t stand out as much against flashier ceramics but I decided not to compromise on my making. My vessels require the viewer to wait, to allow the object’s subtleties to unfold over time. It seems that ideas about ‘slow art’ and Arden Reed’s belief that ‘paintings can behave like moving pictures’ have subconsciously wound their way into my thinking.

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Thinking of making and firing not as a means to an end but as processes in themselves, I’ve started looking at ceramists who use firing as performance (Keith Harrison ) and making as performance (Peter Voulkos) with the hope that I can learn more about duration in relation to ceramics. My ideas currently mostly come from reading for my dissertation but I need to start making them concrete. As a result of my tutorial with Claire I plan to begin next term by setting myself a series of challenges which will help me move into larger, more expressive work that will help me realise my ideas better. The vessel form with its embodiment of roundness is a central theme but function feels more of a safety net than a necessity.

 

Makers Markets

This term I’ve taken part for the first time in a number of makers markets. The first of these was with Nam at Tiny Rebel’s Autumn Makers Market in Cardiff town centre (Nov 25th), the second was at CSAD’s School of Management as part of the fundraising for our degree show catalogue with the rest of the course (Dec 5th), and the third was last Saturday at the Cardiff Quakers Meeting room organised by Hannah (Dec 8th).

Carlota, a graduate from the CSAD fine art course had set up the autumn makers market at Tiny Rebel. It was a successful day and exciting to see the public engaging with the work. Sharing a table with Nam and her co-worker Richard my first time helped calm my nerves. There was lots to remember – boxes to display the work on, a cash float, scissors, sellotape, bubblewrap, paper bags, business cards, price tags…I was worried I would forget something. The venue itself was cosy and not very big although unfortunately Tiny Rebel weren’t able to advertise outside their premises except through social media so most of the visitors had heard about the market online or through word of mouth.
I felt that my work (a mixture of different sized functional stoneware storage jars and bowls) was in the higher price range for this kind of event. Most people appeared to be buying things that were £10 or less, especially stickers and cards. My jars ranged from £26 to £60 while the bowls were £15 to £30, prices I had decided on after a last-minute tutorial with Natasha the week before. I’m happy with the prices I’ve chosen and so far the public seem to agree that the prices are justified.

Richard’s work sold well and while it was also ceramic, he buys in bisque ware which he decorates with brightly coloured splattered glaze and overglaze, meaning he can afford to price his mugs at £10 while mine were going for £26. For a ceramics student outsourcing in this way feels almost like cheating but then I’m reminded that even Bernard Leach probably didn’t make most of his own pots, although he decorated them. It was a little disheartening to see that the public seemed to see no difference between ceramics which had been handmade from a lump of clay and ceramics which had been decorated but not made by the artist. It made me think about how much of my work I would be happy to outsource either to industrial manufacturers or other makers.
I suppose I already outsource the processing of the clay and glaze materials, I’m also happy to use tools that I’ve bought or that have been made by others. The enjoyment I get from the process of throwing and control over the form is too much for me to compromise though.

The Quaker’s Market this weekend was a little different – a three hour market over lunch time instead of a whole day. We were made to feel very welcome in the ground floor meeting room and regularly supplied with mince pies, tea and hot mulled apple. I had positive feedback about my work although again I felt my work was the highest priced of everything in the room. Rather than art college graduates and craftspeople this was more of a second-hand shop with an Avon sale and a few craftspeople. I managed to make over £200 from these two markets but in order to work out if these kinds of events can be lucrative I need to work out how much I’m spending on materials, firing, transport costs, business cards, wrapping etc. I hope to take part in more makers markets in the new year but with smaller, cheaper items such as eggcups, plates, lemon juicers and plant pots. I had visitors asking me if I made vases and jugs too so perhaps adapting my products to the desire of the public can encourage me to try out new forms.

Our collaborative mug sale at the CSAD Christmas Market was organised through the Centre for Entrepreneurship. Yixia and I liaised with Giorgia to secure a couple of tables and I put together a rota so we would have students manning the stall add day. Luckily none of the makers markets have required me to pay to be there (Richard paid our £15 for the Tiny Rebel stand and the Quakers only suggested a donation of 10%) but I realise that usually the cost of the tradestand would need to be deducted from the overall profit.
I lowered the price of my mugs from £26 to £18 since this market is aimed at students. A number of us from L6 had made mugs for the sale and we made a total of about £130 from the day. Unfortunately we hadn’t realised we would have also been allowed to sell on the Friday of that week too so that’s something to look out for in future.

 

Tutorial with Claire Curneen

Yesterday’s tutorial with Claire was really helpful to clarify my thoughts about my practice and where I’m headed next. I explained to her how I have started to feel as if making only functional ware is not satisfying me creatively and that I want to bring ideas from my dissertation research into my ceramics. I’ve been researching time and temporality in relation to art and ceramics in particular with focus on artists like Keith Harrison (the firing as a durational event), Phoebe Cummings (exploring the ephemeral nature of raw clay) and thinking about how we visualise time either linearly or circularly. Already my functional ware is linking a little into these ideas…the subtle glazes from the reduction firing appear almost grey when they are taken from the kiln. However, over time, the subtleties of colour reveal themselves to me, as I’ve noticed having the pieces on my desk for weeks – they are blue, green, orange, purple and red. Spending time with these objects is similar to spending time in nature, a contemplation where beauty and complexity reveals itself to us gradually.

Claire suggested I visit potter Jack Welbourne, a graduate from the ceramic programme at Cardiff. She suggested it might be interesting to consider the role of the contemporary ‘country-potter’ in the modern world where many potters choose to have urban studios because it is cheaper and they have supportive networks in the community.

I’ve been thinking about the functional vessels I make in relation to the still life lectures we’ve had, in particular the way transient things like food and flowers are displayed in Dutch still life painting. I plan on setting myself a number of experimental tasks to begin next term. One of these might be throwing a series of my forms – jars, bowls and mugs in clay and positioning an unfired still-life of these in a plastic container, kept moist with water spray. I hope over time mould will develop on the greenware, creating a kind of Meret Oppenheim-esque repulsive juxtaposition of the comfortingly functional and the grotesque. Last year I left a load of thrown porcelain cylinders for weeks in a lidded plastic container and they developed a spotty orange mould on the surface. Working with raw clay isn’t necessarily the path I want to take but I need to begin to think of ceramics in terms of change and duration, of something temporal but immortal, evolving, re-configuring and holding in itself traces of the past.

Jasper suggested I look at the work of Anita Regek and Tamsin Van Essen who both explore decay and decomposition in their ceramic forms and surfaces. I’ve identified from my functional work the kind of forms and qualities I want to work with. The Vessel is a core characteristic as it links me to the lineage of ceramics historically and gas reductions firing’s qualities that allow the materials and chemicals to come alive and for the surfaces to become almost traces of events, are central to moving forward. Next term I want to make bigger and push myself to a place where the making becomes physically demanding on my strength and stamina. I feel very inspired by the work of Peter Voulkos and his macho, daredevil performance pieces in which he would throw over 20kg in one go. I’ve been a huge admirer of Gareth Mason’s work for years and his work too with it’s physicality and sense of stratified time is the kind of space I want to propel my work to next. Setting myself a task to construct a ceramic object and then deconstruct and reconfigure it in a new way over and over may be a way of drawing in ideas about time’s circular nature.

Photos:
Aneta Regel: http://www.sarahmyerscough.com
Gareth Mason: http://www.architecturaldigest.com

The Eternal Return

The Eternal Return by Brian Swann

In fall I stomp, bomb and spray them with worse than
agent-orange. They fall as black rain on soup and sinner
alike. And still they come. The locals say, Just sweep ’em up.
I do, again and again, and by first snow they’re gone.
In spring I find fly nurseries in riddled cowpats and think,
well, maybe this year they’ve gone somewhere else, and
I forget them. Until fall when they seep in again through
cracks and they’re everywhere, crawling up windows to
the sun, clustering as satanic clots in corners. Then they fall,
hit the floor singing high-pitched death-songs, dog-soldiers
staked to the spot, spinning on their backs, break-dancing,
flailing legs of thread, flapping mica wings, coming apart.
So I sweep them up, toss them out into the cold where
they will sleep their sleep, dream the same dream all winter
till in spring it comes true again, and the wake, born of dung
to no end save that which made them, serious as the sun into which
they vanish, to return, reconstituted, unresolved.

Swann, B. 2018, “The Eternal Return”, Salmagundi, , no. 199, pp. 68-68,227.

Ruminating on roundness again, a consequence of working with the wheel and the circular nature of wheel thrown vessels, I find myself interested in Nietzsche’s theory of the eternal return. Intended as a thought provoking experiment instead of an explanation of the universe, eternal return is the theory that life is endlessly repeating. Existence repeating itself in an infinite cycle through reincarnation is nothing new, cyclical time has been present in many religions from the ancient Egyptians to Buddhism and Hinduism. The idea of cyclical time is something we are not so familiar with in the west because of the rise of Christianity.
Nietzsche’s eternal return differs from reincarnation in that no soul is involved and instead of a new, better or worse life, we experience the exact same one over and over again. The weight that comes with this thought is heavy. On one side, we have the endless, pointless and absurd repeated suffering of existence. On the other, we find a joyful truth, a motivation to live the best life we can so that we will want nothing to be different next time around. He called this joy amor fati, literally, loving one’s fate. I find this a more appealing philosophy to life than the contemporary often reckless and selfish attitude of YOLO.
Nietzsche’s Eternal Return contrasts with the Christian attitude that this life is seen as inferior to the next one, a linear progression from one state to another. In the American Drama series ‘True Detective’ Cole’s character describes time as a flat circle, a closed system on which our lives are played out like films over and over again. Many films have played with the idea of time repeating itself – Groundhog Day, The Truman Show and more recently Happy Death Day and one of my favourites, The Frame. The Frame tells the story of two characters, each watching the other’s life through a TV show in parallel separate universes, and eventually each trying to save the other’s life.
The Big Bounce Theory of the universe postulates that matter and energy is a cycle of contraction and expansion. It’s perhaps not the most popular theory of the universe but it’s interesting to think of this in relation to the things I make. In an Eternal Return I would have made them an infinite amount of times before and will make them over and over forever. In that case there would be repeated, identical vessel forms superimposed on top of one another. What would this look like?

 

 

 

Shino Glazes

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One of the glazes that I’ve been firing in the gas kiln over the past couple of months seems to yield very different results each time it’s fired. Depending on the application, the thickness, the amount of reduction and placement in the kiln, the shino glaze (recipe here) I have sometimes turns out a bubbling bright orange, a thick opaque white, a smooth fiery red or a heavily crazed salmon pink (as it did in the wood kiln). Some beautiful results with it came on a mug from a recent reduction where the glaze was speckled with lustre-like iron spots on a shiny cream and orange glaze.

I’m interested to learn more about what gives a Shino its distinctive qualities. Researching in the library I discovered that Shino glazes probably originated in the Mino area of Japan around AD 1573-1615 and were named in honour of the shogun at the time, Shogun Shino Soshin. While Chinese ceramic aesthetics at the time were moving towards industrial perfection, shinos with their imperfections, strength of character and individuality were developed under the influence of the Japanese tea masters who had a very different ideal visual aesthetics. Historians suggest that shinos developed from Japan’s attempt to make a white ceramic to rival the pottery made in China and Korea at the time. Prior to this, Japanese ceramics had been glazed with a mixture of earthy ash and iron glazes.

Shinos can be loosely divided into three main categories – traditional, carbon trap and high alumina. Traditional shinos are around 60-80% feldspar and 20-40% clay. Since they are high in feldspar and clay they contain large quantities of alumina and silica whose natural impurities cause texture and imperfections in the glaze, part of their charm. Australian shino recipes developed from Japan adjusted the traditional recipes to contain Nephelyine Syenite (70-80%). The more nepheline syenite, the shinier the glaze .

Carbon Trap shino’s were developed by Virginia Wirt in America in the 1970s and are characterised by an addition of 3-17% soda ash to the recipe. The soluble soda ash leaves deposits of ash on the surface of the pot as the glaze evaporates which can result in grey or black flashes on the surface. With 8.1% soda ash my shino from HDK could be classified as a carbon trap shino recipe. The soda should be dissolved in hot water before adding the other glaze ingredients as I found out when the glaze started forming hard lumps and sticking to the bottom of the mixing bowl when I made it. Another chemical in the recipe is spodumene, a high lithium feldspar which could have been added to the recipe to help thermal shock resistance. I’ve read that a better carbon trap can be achieved if the work is dried for longer and also that putting lids on pots after glazing will encourage the puling of soda ash to the outer surface of the jar.

Ian Currie in his book ‘Stoneware glazes’ divides shino into three different subsections depending on the surface they are on: Firstly, ‘normal’ shinos which are a thick crackle white where applied thickly and a ‘fire colour’ where thin. Secondly he talks about gray shinos which are shinos over a traditional iron bearing slip. Gosu slip (also known as mouse gray) is a traditional slip coloured with iron and cobalt pigment. The third he calls marbled shino which is shino applied to marbled dark and light clay. The red/orange colour from shinos depends on the iron oxide being activated in the reduction firing. While most shinos don’t contain iron oxide in the recipe, iron can be introduced in a number of ways – either from the clay body itself, clay in the glaze recipe or an underlying slip. It’s interesting to note that the heavy iron spotting in my shino might be a result of using high iron reduction st Thomas clay. The high iron content is visible when the pots are bisque fired and turn a salmon pink.

Unfortunately the small gas kiln at CSAD is temporarily broken after last Friday’s firing. I hope to experiment further with shino recipes in the new year though, especially layering them over slips. I’ve read it’s possible to colour shinos effectively too with stains and oxides.